Bonding with your baby

Some parents bond with their baby immediately, while others find it takes more time. Here are some ideas for how to spend quality time with your baby.

Responsive parenting  

Babies have a strong need to be close to their parents. This helps them feel secure and loved, which can help with their development.  

It is not true that babies become spoilt or demanding if they are given too much attention. Newborn babies are also too young to learn or fit into a routine. Instead, babies thrive when their parents respond to their needs.  

This means that they may cry unless they are held. A lot of parents worry that their baby will get so used to this that they will never be able to be independent or sleep alone. But this is not true.

When babies feel secure, it releases a hormone called oxytocin, which makes them happy and helps their brains grow and develop. Holding, smiling, and talking to your baby also releases oxytocin in you, which will help your growing bond.

Find out more about your baby’s development.

Skin-to-skin contact  

Skin-to-skin means having your baby on your chest, their naked skin next to yours, with a blanket over both of you for warmth if needed. You can put it in your birth plan, as it is a great thing to do straight after your baby’s been born. You can do skin-to-skin if you have had a vaginal birth or a caesarean section. You don’t have to wait until you are in the recovery room to do this. 

It’s best if you and your baby have the skin-to-skin contact straight after the birth. If there’s any reason you cannot do this, your birth partner (if you have one) can do it until you can.  

There are lots of reasons to have skin-to-skin contact with your baby. It can:

  • help you bond
  • calm and de-stress you both
  • help with breastfeeding
  • keep your baby warm
  • regulate your baby’s heart rate, breathing rate and blood sugars
  • comfort your baby.

If you cannot hold your baby skin-to-skin, you could hold their hand or gently touch them, so they can feel your warmth. Any touch from a parent can comfort them and help you bond.

Staying safe while practising skin-to-skin

You can have skin-to-skin cuddles with your baby for as long as you like. Just make sure you are fully awake and alert. Falling asleep on a bed, sofa or armchair with your baby increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Do not fall asleep during skin-to-skin time. As soon as you feel sleepy, put your baby flat on their back in a Moses basket or crib next to your bed, while you get some rest.

Find out more about safe sleep for babies.

Skin-to-skin in NICU

If your baby is in the neonatal unit (NICU) then ask your midwife or nurse about having some skin-to-skin contact (also known as kangaroo care). This has immediate and long-term benefits for premature and low birthweight babies, such as:

  • reduced hospital stays
  • improved physical and brain development
  • improved social development
  • improved breastfeeding.

It is natural to feel upset if you have to wait to enjoy skin-to-skin contact. But you can do skin-to-skin in the days, weeks and months to come. Whether you breastfeed or bottle feed, there will be plenty of chances to do skin-to-skin.

Eye contact with your baby

Making eye contact with your baby can help you bond.

Newborn babies can see, but their vision is blurred and they cannot see colours very well. Your baby will be best able to focus on things that are close to them, such as your face. They will also prefer objects that have high contrast colours, such as black and white patterns. 

By the time your baby is 2 weeks old their eyes will be able to follow your face. Giving them plenty of eye contact, and lots of smiles, will help them learn to recognise you.  

Talking with your baby

One of the key things you can do with your baby is hold them close and talk to them calmly, each day, as often as you can. Chat about what you are doing, and what is around you.  

You can try reading a book or singing, which really helps them tune in to the rhythm of words. At some point, your baby will start making sounds and gurgling back at you. Saying the sounds your baby makes back to them teaches your baby useful lessons about listening and taking turns when talking.

Holding your baby

Hold your baby as much as you can (in your arms or in a sling). When you cuddle your baby, they feel safe and loved, building on that bond between you both. You cannot spoil a baby, with ‘too much’ cuddling – it is what they need.

Find out more about your baby's development, and how they learn to communicate with you

Tummy time

Tummy time means giving your baby some time each day when they are lying on their tummy. This helps them to build their sitting and crawling muscles. You can start tummy time from birth by lying them on your chest. When your baby is ready, try tummy time on the floor or on a playmat.

Giving your baby tummy time is a great way to have fun with them. Lie down on the floor with them and chat to convince them to move around. You could try putting some toys nearby for them to reach out for and crawl towards when they are a little bit stronger.

Only do tummy time when your baby is awake and alert, and you are there to watch them.

Play with me

Playing simple games with your baby is a great way to get to know each other. It is never too early to try to make your baby laugh.

You could try:

  • copycat games – pulling a funny face or sticking out your tongue to see if they copy
  • stroking their hands, feet or face
  • cuddling them and dancing gently around the room to some music
  • bending their legs gently in and out
  • touching the palm of their hand and letting them hold your fingers
  • blowing gently on their tummy
  • showing them things around your home or outside and talking about them – it is all new and exciting to them, even a lamp or a tree.

Health and development checks

You will be offered health and development checks with a health visitor until they are 2 1/2 years old. These will support you and your baby, and make sure your baby is developing well.

It is only natural to worry about your baby when they are so little.  

If you have any concerns about your baby’s health and development between your routine checks, contact your health visitor or GP straight away, rather than waiting for your next scheduled appointment.

Find out more about your baby’s check-ups after they are born.

Find out more about the first few weeks of your baby’s life.

What if I am not bonding with my baby?

Some parents fall in love with their babies from the moment of birth. Others find that their love grows slowly over the first few weeks as they get to know them. Both are completely normal.

Difficulty bonding with your baby could be a sign of a mental health issue, such as postnatal depression or postnatal anxiety.

Many new parents find it hard to talk about any negative feelings after having a baby because they feel under pressure to be happy.

But you are not alone if you are feeling low. Life with a newborn is often hard and tiring. Many women and birthing people develop mental health issues such as depression or anxiety during pregnancy or in the first year after childbirth. Talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP about how you are feeling. They will be able to offer you help and support, without judgement.

Find out more about your mental health after the birth.  

Dads and partners can be affected too and there is support available. Find out more about looking after your mental health after baby is born – for dads and partners

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UNICEF. Skin to skin contact.

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Unicef (2021). Building a happy baby. 

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Coats DK (2021) Vision screening and assessment in infants and children. 

NHS. Help your baby learn to talk. (Page last reviewed: 30 April 2020. Next review due: 30 April 2023) 

NHS. How to keep your baby or toddler active. (Page last reviewed: 09 March 2023. Next review due: 09 March 2026) 

NHS. Your baby’s health and development reviews. (Page last reviewed: 20 February 2020. Next review due: 20 February 2023)

The American College of Obstetricians & Gynacologists (2022) Bonding with your newborn: what to know if you don’t feel connected right away. 

Maternal Mental Health – Women’s Voices

Darwin Z, Domoney J, et al. Assessing the Mental Health of Fathers, Other Co-parents, and Partners in the Perinatal Period: Mixed Methods Evidence Synthesis. Front Psychiatry. 2021 Jan 12;11:585479. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2020.585479. PMID: 33510656; PMCID: PMC7835428. 

Review dates
Reviewed: 04 July 2023
Next review: 04 July 2026